Book Review: “The Cartoon Guide to Economics”

Much like Newton’s groundbreaking laws of gravity, two laws have been developed to explain economists

 

The First Law of Economists: For every economist, there exists an equal and opposite economist.

 

The Second Law of Economists: They’re both wrong.

 

But seriously, the branch of science concerned with the movement and valuation of goods, services, and especially money has always intrigued me. I’ve read a couple fantastic economic books that are deserving of a shoutout. If you’re looking for a profound yet surprisingly amusing book replete with economics anecdotes and with a naked dollar bill on the cover, check out “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science” by Charles Wheelan. If you’re interested in a more comprehensive and visually appealing book, check out my review of this one right here. On a larger scale, the science of economics saturates every sphere of life. Each day, we foster new economic relationships, develop ground-breaking products and equally innovative ways to market them and expand the reach of civilization. I think it’s important for everyone, from business professionals to stay-at-home parents, to have at least a cursory understanding of how the global economic machine works. The only caveat is the apparent complexity of the field which frequently serves as an intellectual barrier for those moderately interested in learning about Economics. How can we make a field that seems to thrive on jargon accessible for the average person? Well, the answer to that is with three wacky economists who are frequently placed in harrowing situations to translate economic principles into the layperson’s vernacular. I’m referring to “The Cartoon Introduction to Economics,” both the macro and micro-economics editions. Written by Grady Klein and the self-proclaimed stand-up economist Yoram Bauman, each page is filled with an innovative and often comical way to simply explain economics.

 

The first book posits one question: “Under what circumstances does individual optimization lead to outcomes that are good for the group as a whole.” In other words, if I act solely to advance my position, how can we harness that to contribute to the overall success of society. The book then goes into an in-depth discussion of common dilemmas that plague our collective pursuit of success, giving examples such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma and illustrating the Tragedy of the Commons through traffic rules. When discussing supply and demand, they use the example of a coffee company owned by a Fidel Castro lookalike who, despite his revolutionary fervor, initially struggles to grasp the nuances of supply and demand curves. The examples only get wackier, but the authors’ wonderful sense of humor and willingness to lightheartedly mock their field keeps the reader engrossed in the text.

 

I enjoyed the Microeconomics edition much more, mostly due to my interest in the science of interpersonal interactions. Regardless of the mundanity of the interaction, there are assemblages of language, experiences, and motivations that mediate the interaction. In the context of economic interactions, the authors outline how a variety of factors influence both the decision that the optimizing individual takes and the efficacy of that decision. I also enjoyed it because it seemed to introduce you to the rudimentary concepts which would be elucidated further in the Macroeconomics book. Here, the authors focus on what’s traditionally associated with economics: supply and demand, game theory, interest rates, and so much more!

 

The second book approaches the question of optimization holistically, asking “How can we get economies to grow without crashing them?” Much of the book mainly focuses on a divide in economic theory that continues to operate even in the realm of contemporary economics: Classical vs Keynesian. Classical Economics was first developed by the British Economist Adam Smith way back in 1776 and argues that the market must be allowed to operate, unfettered by the governmental intrusion. Smith believes that, in the long run, allowing the market to run its course will resolve any potential market errors. Conversely, Keynesian economics is built upon the notion that Classical economics is hogwash. Developed by John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s, it contends that the government should stimulate the economy with injections of cash, modification of interest rates, and the alteration of taxes from time to time. The book then goes on to use a pudgy Uncle Sam to illustrate concepts ranging from inflation to global trade. Towards the end, the book shifts focus from explaining the concepts of economics to tangibly applying them to analyze real-world issues. They discuss the economics of climate change and examine the ramifications of globalization and the advent of technology. The objectivity of the book was refreshing, for it made sure to address specific phenomena from the perspective of both Classical and Keynesian economic theories. Towards the end, it extols the virtues of the study of economics, dispelling many preconceptions that might have still lingered in the reader’s head. Ultimately, economics is a science and following basic economic tenets is generally advantageous for any government. Unfortunately, our system seems to thrive on narratives of economic strife and thunderous disavowals of compromise. We must understand the multifaceted nature of economics and make a concerted effort to synthesize each facet to develop pragmatic solutions to real-world problems.

 

Graphic novels are a great way of conveying information in a palatable form! Check out my other review of a graphic novel here. I don’t want to detract too much from the stars of this blog post, but if you’re looking for an exceptionally well written and illustrated graphic novel to read, try “Daytripper” by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Look forward to  a more nuanced and philosophically oriented analysis of this wonderful book soon. I’d like to end with a more global focus, for the United States isn’t the only economic powerhouse in North America. In Canada, there is a small radical group that refuses to speak English and no one can understand them. They are called separatists. In this country (USA) we have the same kind of group. They are called economists.

 

 

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